Forensic Sketch Art: Using art to solve crimes

By Avril Eyewu-Edero

In 2015, I was called to help with a homicide case of a 70-year-old man that had just returned from Ireland three days before he was murdered in his home in Amuwo Odofin area of Lagos state.

The greatest challenge the investigation team had was finding the suspected killer, the Security guard that had only been employed two weeks before the murder. Soon after the incident, he was seen fleeing the scene.

Unfortunately, when the security guard, who claimed that he was from the Niger republic was employed, his details including a picture of him wasn’t obtained by his employer, so the police had no way of identifying him if found.

I was initially asked to help assist with the forensic investigation process for the case, however, that wasn’t possible as the scene was already cleaned and lost its integrity.

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So, whilst reviewing the case and finding out that the police had a challenge with obtaining a picture of the security guard for tracking, I decided to do something that we actually never utilize, FORENSIC FACIAL SKETCH.

To achieve this, I told all the occupants of the house where the security guard worked to write down everything they knew about his physical features.

Once this was done, the similarities in the description by all the neighbors were used to draw a sketch of the suspect (seen in the image below).

Immediately everyone that knew him saw the sketch, they exclaimed that it looked exactly like him.

This image was used for tracking and some Okada riders in the area that saw the picture stated they knew the face and gave some information about a location in Alaba rago that he moved to.

Now what is forensic art and how can it be useful in Nigeria?

A forensic artist would use free-hand or digital drawings, enhancement, and reconstructions to help with the identification of a suspect or victim, to aid in the apprehension of the suspect and help with conviction.

In other climes, this is a skill that is utilized efficiently by law enforcement agents to identify criminal suspects and victims through facial composite sketches.

This skill has proved very helpful in solving many cases around the world, so why are we not using this in Nigeria. In December 2019, when I attended the AIISSON conference in Lagos, they had a very educative session about kidnapping and I had to share my thoughts on how forensics can help, and my response was simple.

Nigeria is a society where families tend to be close-knit and people listen to their parents, so when a kidnap victim is released, one of the investigative processes could be getting the victim to describe the physical features of the kidnapper(s) and this can be published on a platform for people to identify them, because these are people that live amongst us, spend their money in town and are members of a family, there is a possibility that they could be positively identified.

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This might sound like a long shot but it’s a process that can be beneficial to the security of the country.

Forensic sketch artists can also use skeletal remains for facial reconstruction to identify an unknown body.

Technology is making this technique even better as these images can be reconstructed digitally, but the good old process of using a forensic sketch artist, paper and good drawing hands is still gold.

A forensic artist would also be a skilled interviewer, knowing the type of questions to ask the witness to develop the right facial reconstruction.

The ability to write a good report is essential and finally presenting this evidence in court if required.

Forensic sketch art is an essential and useful technique that helps an investigation process and if applied in the investigation process in Nigeria, would produce good results.



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